Heartworm Disease: How to Protect Your Dog from Heartworms
The sun is shining brighter and the temperatures are rising. Our dogs are wagging their tails a bit more often because the outdoors feels great on their shiny coats compared to the cold of winter. However, nice weather can also invite some unwanted guests.
With spring in full swing and April being Heartworm Awareness Month, it’s a good time to talk about this serious mosquito-borne disease. Prevention is the best medicine, so let’s go through what heartworm disease is, some common questions about this disease, and what you can do to help protect your dog.
What is Heartworm Disease?
Dirofilariasis, better known as heartworm disease, is a serious illness caused by a blood-borne parasite. According to the American Heartworm Society, “Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets in the United States and many other parts of the world. It is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs in the body.”
How Do Dogs Get Heartworm Disease?
In order for heartworms to get into a dog’s blood system, they need an intermediate host. Mosquitos serve as this host after they bite an infected dog and ingest a baby heartworm known as microfilaria. The baby heartworm will develop in the mosquito’s gut for 10 to 30 days until the mosquito finds a new host – your dog.
Once the mosquito bites a healthy dog, the infective larvae will develop for a couple of months before they make their way into your dog’s bloodstream and grow into adult heartworms. The now mature heartworms can begin to reproduce within six to seven months after initial infection, adding even more parasites into your dog’s system.
How Long Can Dogs Live with Heartworms?
Dogs are natural hosts for heartworms, meaning that heartworms that live inside the dog mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring. If left untreated, heartworms can live and reproduce in dogs for five to seven years, causing them to potentially harbor several hundred worms in their bodies.
While dogs can live with heartworms for years, these parasites can take a toll on your dog’s health. The American Heartworm Society notes that heartworm disease can cause lasting damage to your dog’s heart, lungs, and arteries, with some symptoms persisting even after the parasites are gone. Advanced heartworm disease can even be fatal without proper care, making prevention and treatment essential.
Heartworm Prevention for Dogs
Since there’s no way to tell if a mosquito is infected, prevention is absolutely critical. It can be easy to prevent heartworm in dogs, but treatment is both difficult and costly. As such, it’s important to practice heartworm prevention year-round, even outside of mosquito season. Here are a few ways that pet parents can practice year-round prevention.
- Annual tests – Many dogs show few to no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Yearly blood tests can help spot heartworm disease early on while it’s still preventable and easy to treat.
- Heartworm prevention medications – Monthly oral pills and six-month injectable shots work to eliminate immature stages of the heartworm larvae before it develops into an adult.
- Your veterinarian – It’s always good to talk to an expert about your dog’s health. Speak to your veterinarian to see which heartworm prevention method is best for you and your pup.
Symptoms of Heartworm Disease in Dogs
Even if your dog is regularly tested for heartworm and you practice regular preventative care, it’s best to know how to spot signs of heartworm disease. There likely won’t be any initial symptoms of heartworms in your dog. However, as more worms populate in the heart and lungs, your dog will start showing symptoms, including:
- Mild, persistent cough
- Fatigue after moderate activity
- Unwillingness to exercise
- Weight loss
- Decreased appetite
Dogs with more advanced heartworm disease may also start to exhibit other warning signs. For example, the American Heartworm Society notes that more serious cases can lead to heart failure and make your dog’s belly swell due to excess fluid in the abdomen. The sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark-colored urine is also a sign of a heartworm blockage.
If your dog experiences any warning signs, contact your vet and seek medical attention right away. This disease can cause serious harm the longer it has affected your best friend.
How to Treat Heartworm Disease
If your dog does have heartworm disease, they can often be treated successfully depending on the state of the dog and the stage of the disease. The earlier it’s caught, the better. Treatment can cause some side effects and can also be costly, so you’ll want to consult with your veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis and ensure the treatment is necessary.
Once heartworm has been detected, your veterinarian will first focus on stabilizing your dog. Then, they will start a treatment plan to eliminate the existing heartworm and keep adverse effects to a minimum. According to the American Heartworm Society, it is also best to restrict your dog’s exercise during this process, as physical exertion can speed up how quickly heartworms can damage your dog’s heart and lungs. Your dog will need to be tested six months after completing the treatment to be sure there is no more infection.
More Ways to Keep Your Best Friend Happy and Healthy
Heartworm prevention is one of many ways that pet parents can help support their best friends. Keeping your furry friend happy and healthy is the key to a smiling face and adorable puppy dog eyes! At Bil-Jac, we’re always thinking about your dog’s health, so he can be your lovable pup day in and day out.
Want to learn more about how you can help your pooch live a healthy lifestyle? Join our Best Friends Club today. Each month, you’ll receive special training tips, informative articles, and members-only discounts on Bil-Jac products, so your dog stays happy and healthy.